Friday 1 May 2020

Welcome to the Leamington Music Virtual Festival!

Each day for the next five days, we will give you an e-flavour of what you could have enjoyed in person this weekend in the Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington – sometimes movements and sometimes whole works; some modern performances and some classics.

While we don’t have the technology to beam each of the programmed artists playing live into your living room, we hope you will enjoy these videos of live performances of some the music you were to hear in our Festival.

The 2020 Leamington Music Festival – Largely Ludwig – was to open with an all-Beethoven programme in celebration of the great composer’s 250th birthday.

We were to hear pianist Tom Poster first (last seen in Leamington with the Aronowitz Ensemble in the 2019 Festival) with the wonderful Piano Sonata in E minor Op 90.

In our Virtual Festival, we are pleased to offer you Daniel Barenboim as an alternative…

Beethoven   Piano Sonata in E minor Op 90    
i. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck
ii. Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 27 was composed during the summer of 1814 – the same time the Royal Pump Rooms opened – shortly after the completion of the final version of his opera Fidelio, and the autograph score is dated 16 August 1814.

The sonata dates from shortly after the defeat of Napoleon, and a strong sense of patriotism was sweeping Vienna, where Beethoven resided. Perhaps for this reason he began using German rather than a foreign language to indicate the tempo and character of his sonata movements. Thus the first was marked, ‘With liveliness, and throughout with feeling and expression’, and the second, ‘Not too fast, and to be played very cantabile’.

The first movement is, as usual, in sonata form, but is quite a compact movement, without any repeat of the exposition. Its style is generally lyrical, and its first theme comes to a very definite close, which then reappears almost unaltered at the end of the whole movement. Like the first movement, the second shows very little use of counterpoint and is even more lyrical, with a gentle melody in E major that sounds more typical of Schubert than of Beethoven. This returns numerous times and the music seems almost constrained by the sonata-rondo form. In the coda, however, it takes off with greater flights of fancy, as if freed from the limits of the form; but even here the gentle, unhurried character of the whole sonata is paramount.

Here is Tom Poster playing Ravel’s La Valse

Visit his website for more

Click here to visit the Presto Classical page on Tom Poster which features interviews with Tom and details of his recordings…

Next, the Sacconi String Quartet were to play the Quartet in B flat Op 18 No 6.

The Virtual Festival version comes from the Amadeus Quartet…

Beethoven   String Quartet in B flat Op 18 No 6                     
i. Allegro con brio
ii. Adagio, ma non troppo
iii. Scherzo: Allegro
iv. La malinconia: Adagio – Allegretto quasi allegro

Extreme contrasts characterise the Quartet in B flat Op 18 No 6, perhaps an anticipation of the great Op 130 in the same key.

Beethoven was always attracted by the problems posed by strong contrasts and in the last of the Op 18 quartets he is trying out the possibilities of disparity of character between the movements. Nothing could be more exhilarating than the powerfully-sprung first movement with its spare textures and the abrupt and economical nature of its harmonic movement. This exuberant movement is followed by a soberly ornate slow movement in E flat, with touches of mystery here and there, serving to relieve the general tone rather than to search depths.

One of Beethoven’s most astonishing Scherzos follows. Its remarkable rhythmic disruptions could have occurred at any time in his life, and if this piece had cropped up in one of the late quartets nobody would have questioned it. The Trio displays a wild and difficult violin solo, a phenomenon we find also in the trios of Opp 130 and 135.

A slow introduction, La Malinconia, full of daring shifts of harmony and texture, begins the last movement. It is justly one of the most celebrated passages in early Beethoven — he asks for it to be played with the greatest delicacy. It recurs later in the course of the following cheerful major movement; maybe Beethoven’s cheerfulness should not be thought of as a cure for the melancholy — perhaps it is part of it, with its sense of helpless circling. But we must avoid special pleading; whatever we may feel about the conclusion of the B flat Quartet, the whole is a work of genius.

Here is a short video of highlights from the Tenth Sacconi Chamber Music Festival

Visit the Sacconi Quartet website for more

Click here to visit the Presto Classical page on the Sacconi Quartet which features interviews and details of recordings…

Finally, after the interval, Tom Poster and the Sacconi Quartet were to be joined by double bassist Andrew Marshall for Vinzenz Lachner’s chamber arrangement of the ‘Emperor’ Concerto.

The Virtual Festival performance is by I Musicanti whose double bassist, Leon Bosch, was one of the first to really champion these superb arrangements.

Beethoven   Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat Op 73 ‘Emperor’
i. Allegro
ii. Adagio un poco mosso
iii. Rondo: Allegro

Beginning in 1803, Beethoven experienced a period of some of his most prolific composition. Beethoven biographer Maynard Solomon called this the composer’s “heroic decade,” beginning with his third symphony, ‘Eroica’, and ending with the Piano Concerto No 5 ‘Emperor’. While the ‘Eroica’ Symphony set the new trajectory of Beethoven’s music during this time, the ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto defined its peak.

By this point in his compositional career, Beethoven’s penchant for innovation in the opening bars of his concertos had become a signature, and the Fifth is no exception. After an introductory orchestral chord, the piano enters with a cadenza; by opening the concerto with a cadenza full of musical foreshadowing, Beethoven telegraphs the themes and ideas of the opening movement. The seamlessness of the opening movement gives a sense of inevitability, as if the music could unfold in no other way. Beethoven’s semi-subversive opening cadenza acts as a subliminal suggestion, planting the basic elements of later themes in our ears without our noticing.

In the Adagio un poco mosso, we can picture Beethoven, surrounded by aural and emotional chaos, escaping from the turmoil of his surroundings into an ethereal sound world. All too soon he brings us back to earth as the accompaniment drops down a semitone, from B to B flat, sustained while the piano storms into the Rondo with renewed vigour, executing a series of variations on this theme, each more elaborate than the next. The playful, humorous aspects of Beethoven’s personality reveal themselves here in the “false ending,” abrupt key changes, and generally buoyant mood throughout.

The arranger of this version for string orchestra accompaniment, Vinzenz Lachner, was an active conductor, composer, and teacher in Germany and spent thirty-seven years as the court conductor in Mannheim during the middle of the nineteenth century. As part of a family of professional musicians, Lachner was acquainted with Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms and counted Max Bruch and Hermann Levi among his students

Join us here tomorrow’s ‘concerts’ in our Virtual Festival!


Can you help…?

We are raising money to help see our artists and our organisation through the Covid-19 crisis. Every pound that is donated will make a difference to the way we can support these musicians now and with our plans for the future, and we are extraordinarily grateful to everyone for their understanding and support in such challenging times.

Leamington Music is a not-for-profit charity which relies on your much-valued support to keep bringing international music-making to the area. When this crisis subsides, we are all going to want music more than ever to lift the spirits, and so we at Leamington Music would be very grateful for your help to keep the charity, along with our artists, buoyant in the meantime.